With NY Rangers hurting, Kevin Hayes has opportunity to impress

Kevin Hayes finishes Sunday night with a plus/minus of -2 in 14:17 of ice time.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images Kevin Hayes finishes Sunday night with a plus/minus of -2 in 14:17 of ice time.

The Rangers insist they’ll be quick to learn and move on from their 6-3 blowout loss to the Maple Leafs in Sunday’s home opener, but right wing Kevin Hayes has a long memory.

The former standout at Boston College made his NHL debut on Sunday, registering one shot on goal and was a minus-2 in 14:17 of ice time.

“The outcome wasn’t what we were looking for at all, but it’s always good to get that first game under your belt,” Hayes said. “I thought I progressed as the game went on and was better and better on every shift. (Madison Square Garden) was pretty electric to start, a dream come true. But you have to put those emotions aside and figure it out and go on from there.”

It was a mixed debut for Hayes, who looked comfortable moving the puck at times but struggled in other areas, including the faceoff circle where he went 2-for-10. Hayes, 22, had his best opportunity of the night in the opening period on a one-timer in front set up perfectly by Carl Hagelin. Unfortunately for the rookie, Toronto goaltender James Reimer was up to the task with a pad save.

“I thought I had a couple of good opportunities, one in every period actually. I’ve just got to bare down and bury them,” Hayes said. “Goals don’t come often in this league and when you get a chance to get a couple you’ve got to bear down. If I score that goal early in the first, it could be a different outcome.”

Alain Vigneault was hardly in the mood to hand out compliments after what he called a “team loss,” but did give Hayes a certain measure of praise.

“There were some good things that he did with the puck in the offensive zone. That line (Hayes and Hagelin centered by J.T. Miller) had a couple of looks there,” the head coach said. “It was his first game and we’ll see what happens as we move forward here.”

Injuries and extenuating circumstances forced Vigneault to shuffle his lineup. Winger Mats Zuccarello (right shoulder) missed Sunday’s game and joined center Derek Stepan (broken left fibula) and defenseman Dan Boyle (broken right hand) on the shelf. Zuccarello is considered day-to-day and is a question mark for Tuesday’s matchup with the Islanders. Rick Nash started the game but left after the second period to join his wife for the birth of their first child.

Zuccarello’s absence could mean more time for Hayes, who actually enjoyed some of his better shifts in the third period centering Martin St. Louis and Anthony Duclair after Nash left for the hospital. Jesper Fast started in place of Zuccarello on Sunday.

It could also mean the debut of veteran left wing Ryan Malone. Vigneault said in Columbus that he liked the way Malone performed in camp, but didn’t see where the forward fit into the lineup. The current state of the Blueshirts lineup could provide an opening.  

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